Matt Steiman is the livestock and alternative energies manager at the Dickinson College Farm.
When did you start farming? Where?
“I started out in Colorado on an organic farm. It was my first experience in the food system, and it really made me fall in love with agriculture.”
What was it like living with people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds during your time in Colorado?
So, I actually lived in a barn for the first year I was on the farm, with a man from Mexico. We became close through working together every day and he taught me a good bit of Spanish, which I still practice today. Overall, I learned that agriculture in the United States is dominated by migrant workers and that surviving in the fields requires a lot of will power and discipline.
Is there a psychological difference for you growing crops versus raising livestock?
Raising livestock is actually what I spend most of my time doing at the college farm. It is an intimate experience, more so than cultivating plants, because of the emotional capabilities of the animals. Raising an animal for slaughter is of course, sad, but it is also an integral part of the human experience. I see humans as a part of an ongoing cycle of birth and death, and animals are part of that same system. When we eat an animal, it literally becomes part of us. How intimate!
What are your daily responsibilities with the animals?
I make sure the cows and sheep have water and food, check them for disease and infection, and move the herds from location to location to protect them from parasites as well as to enrich the soil. We spend a lot of time together.
In your opinion, what is the greatest innovation in farming?
Biogas has become one of my main passions over the years, and I hope to expand it on the farm. It is a zero waste, completely renewable form of energy. You can even use human feces to make clean energy, although doing so on a farm is tricky due to the USDA. Biogas systems on every farm and in every house would drastically reduce the amount of carbon emissions released and natural resources burned.
Do you any trends in farming right now? Moving from traditional to modern method, vice versa? Less animals, more vegetables?
Out in Central PA, the focus is on soil health, acreage efficiency, and pest management. The trend is definitely going away from animals, but not very fast. People are getting real creative with vertical farming, like the folks over at Solar Cities. Biogas is big, but it is still considered a hobby in the mainstream. At Dickinson, I hope to incorporate both techniques into future farm practices and classes.
Me and Matt during a tube race this summer in Boiling Springs.
Lamb harvest organized by Matt this summer at the college farm. (We ate it!)